“The Bureau of Land Management totally disregarded laws to protect people and nature when it approved the Sunrise Powerlink. Even the judge presiding over this project with the California Public Utilities Commission agreed with opponents that there’s no need for the project to be built anywhere let alone through communities and the Cleveland National Forest.” - attorney Stephan Volker
February 16, 2010 (San Diego)--A lawsuit was filed today aimed at halting construction of San Diego Gas and Electric’s Sunrise Powerlink high-voltage transmission line through southern Imperial and San Diego counties. The lawsuit was filed in the Federal Eastern District Court in Sacramento.
The suit challenges the decision of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to approve the power line and transmission towers in January of 2009. Three local community groups – The Protect Our Communities Foundation, Back Country Against Dumps, and East County Community Action Coalition – filed the lawsuit after the BLM failed to address issues raised in their administrative appeal.
“We just received a copy of the legal challenge and we are still reviewing it,” said Jennifer Briscoe, spokesperson for SDG&E, who noted that SDG&E is not named as a defendant. But she said, “We will defend the project and the BLM, and FWS [U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service] process. We are confident that the BLM made its decisions based on a voluminous and complete record in the proceedings, and will successfully defend this latest legal challenge.”
She added, “Once again, project opponent’s actions are seeking to further delay the customer, economic, and environmental benefits at this energy infrastructure project. We are confident that the Sunrise Powerlink project will prevail.”
Stephan Volker, attorney for the plaintiffs, has a different point of view. “The Bureau of Land Management totally disregarded laws to protect people and nature when it approved the Sunrise Powerlink,” he said in a press release issued today. "Even the judge presiding over this project with the California Public Utilities Commission agreed with opponents that there’s no need for the project to be built anywhere let alone through communities and the Cleveland National Forest,” he added.
"As impacted property owners, utility consumers, and taxpayers we can’t let SDG&E bulldoze their way through our communities, sensitive public lands, and our wallets,” said Donna Tisdale, President of Backcountry Against Dumps. “The faux green Sunrise Powerlink is far too expensive in so many ways – Increased utility rates and the double-whammy impact of the increased threat of fire and interference with firefighting activities.”
“East County communities deserve to have the same level of environmental review that the northern route received," added Laura Cyphert of the East County Community Action. "As it stands, because of the last minute re-routing through East County, there are multiple very serious impacts which have not been addressed or considered in the environmental impact report. It is extremely unfortunate that the community has been forced to take legal action in order to make the BLM follow the law.”
"This is still everyone’s fight,” said Denis Trafecanty, President of The Protect Our Communities Foundation. “North County communities like Santa Ysabel, Mesa Grande, Warner Springs, and Pala will be back in SDG&E’s crosshairs when the company returns to regulators with a proposal to extend the southern route north to Riverside, as described in the environmental impact report.”
SDG&E’s $2-3 billion Sunrise Powerlink is a major new fossil-fueled electrical transmission line that would be constructed from the Imperial Valley to central San Diego County near Poway. California ratepayers will pay for the 123-mile transmission line consisting of a 500kV main line starting from near El Centro
and Mexico to a huge new substation in a remote rural area east of Alpine.
Two smaller 230kV spur lines would connect to San Diego with future plans by SDG&E to extend the 500kV main line north to Riverside through wilderness and communities. SDG&E successfully opposed any conditions by regulators requiring that the powerlink carry renewable energy. "In fact, the powerlink would provide a highly profitable connection between SDG&E parent company Sempra Energy’s enormous natural gas and export power plant infrastructure in northern Baja California and the southern California electricity market," a press release issued by the groups filing the lawsuits stated.
Sempra Energy spokesman Art Larson said Powerlink would not carry power from the company’s Costa Azul liquid natural gas (LNG) plant in Mexico. “The LNG plant is an LNG plant; it’s not a power station,” he said, noting that gas is transported in pipelines. “It’s not meant to produce power for the grid…Electric lines are not part of the equation.” Asked if any power from the LNG plant could in the future be connected via new transmission lines, such as a proposed trans-border line, to Powerlink, he said, “I don’t believe so; Those lines are not connected to Costa Azul at all.” The three-mile Sierra Juarez line would only connect up with a wind project in Baja, he added.
The lawsuit cites specific environmental impacts from Powerlink that it seeks to have addressed. According to the lawsuit, the action “seeks to protect extraordinary public lands that provide outstanding scenery, tranquility, wilderness recreation and wildlife habitat for endangered species including the Peninsular bighorn sheep and the Quino checkerspot butterfly from needless destruction by a hastily conceived, poorly studied, wildfire-inducing and completely unnecessary powerline project,” plaintiffs are challenging five interrelated agency actions by the United States BLM and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS).
Linda Hayes, owner of Hazy Meadow Ranch in Lakeside hosted a fundraiser last year to raise money for legal battles against Powerlink. Told of today’s lawsuit filing, she responded, “I’m pleased as punch. I live in mortal fear of another fire. If Powerlink goes in, every fire will be a repeat of the Cedar Fire. Firefighters will be unable to get in to fight the fires, so they will just have to wait until the fire burns through. We are sitting ducks out here.”
Today’s lawsuit is the latest in a round of legal challenges to Powerlink. In a separate legal battle, Utility Consumers Action Network and environmental groups are challenging Powerlink’s approval by the California Public Utilities Commission in state court.
Today’s lawsuit filing can be viewed here.
The Protect Our Communities Foundation is a non-profit community organization dedicated to the promotion of a safe, reliable, economical, renewable, and environmentally responsible energy future for San Diego County. http://www.protectourcommunities.org.
Backcountry Against Dumps is a non-profit organization, based in Boulevard, comprising numerous individuals and families residing in the eastern San Diego County, who are directly affected by the southern route of the powerlink, related projects, and the destruction of nearby federal land for inappropriate industrial wind energy development. www.backcountryagainstdumps.org
The East County Community Action Coalition (“ECCAC”) is a coalition of community groups, individuals and organizations, with the common goal of promoting and preserving the quality of life for residents of eastern San Diego County through coordinated community action. www.EastCountyAction.org.